Monday, March 29, 2010

Maple Syrup Production

My aunt Valerie LaFever sent along this link to the Watershed Post about this year's maple syrup production:

I'm sending it along because maple syrup used to be a big spring time activity in Bovina (and still is in a few places) and Bovina natives George and Duane LaFever (my uncle and cousin respectively) are featured in the article and on the YouTube clip. The gist of the article and the video clip is that maple syrup production was down significantly this year.

While maple syrup was never a leading money maker in Bovina, 19th century farmers did take advantage of the abundance of maple trees to satisfy whatever sugar fixes people had in those days. Until the advent of the railroads, cane sugar generally was too expensive for most households. In 1840, farmers produced 23,000 pounds of maple sugar. Production was down to 10,000 pounds by 1855 but back up to 43,000 in 1875, the last year for which I have found data for the town. In the 1870 census, over half of Bovina's farmers produced at least 50 pounds of sugar that year, including at least two of my (and George's and Duane's) ancestors. In the 20th century, my grandfather, Ben LaFever and his three sons, Howard, Charlie and George, produced syrup. The tradition continued with Howard and his sons and with George and his son Duane. For more information on Duane's Delhi based maple sugar operation, go to

Duane is carrying on something our forebears did over 150 years ago. Let's hope this downturn in production is a seasonal issue and that he'll be at full production next year.

And since I'm talking about Bovina farming, I should mention that September 5 has been set for the Bovina Farm Day. Stay tuned for more details as the date gets nearer.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Bovina's Polish Community in 1910

I've finally finished the initial transcription of the Bovina 1910 census. I say initial because I need to clarify some of the entries - the handwriting was a bit of a challenge. And the fact that census summaries say Bovina had 912 people while I have a list of 910 needs to be addressed. A couple of people may be missing.

But in the meantime, I can report that the vast majority (848) of the people living in Bovina said that they were born in New York. The second most common response was Scotland, with 15 making that claim. Tied for third place with 7 people each were England and, a bit of a surprise, Poland.

The seven people who were born in Poland actually said Russia as the country. Remember that in 1910 Poland did not exist as a country - modern day Poland came into existence after the First World War. The reason we know it was Poland is because with the country, the census taker also noted the native language spoken.

So who were these seven people? There were Mike and Jennie Zenkowski. Mike was a farmer who came to the US in 1902 and had been married for 4 years in 1910. He married his Polish born wife about 4 years after he came to the US (the census records do not say when she arrived). He and Jennie had two children, both born in the US. There was Frank Zemkowski, who was living with the Dixon Thomson family as a farm laborer. It is possible that Zenkowski and Zemkowski were the same name and the census taker messed up the spelling.

Steve Slimenski came to the US in 1909, while John Slimenski came the following year. They may have been related, but we can't tell from the census. Steve was 21 and working as a farm laborer on the Zenkowski farm. John was 30, married and living as a boarder at the home of Fred White. His wife was not with him and very likely was still in Poland (if he had been widowed, it would have said so in the census). The two Slimenskis were listed as only speaking Polish.

Frank Sylvesca or Sylvisca was a 48 year old farm laborer at the home of Dewitt Sharp. He too was only able to speak Polish, at least according to the census taker. He arrived in the US in 1900, as did his fellow countryman, Arthur Silinsky (or Silunaky). Arthur was a 25 year old farm laborer on the Maynard farm and was able to speak English.

There is much the census can't tell us about Bovina's Polish residents. We have no idea how they may have interacted with each other. If they did interact as a community, they didn't last long - at least not in Bovina. The Zenkowskis had two more children while in Bovina but by 1920 the whole family had left town. In fact, all of the seven Polish natives who showed up in the 1910 census for Bovina were gone by the time the census taker came back a decade later.

I'll have another entry or two about the 1910 census and what the data show, but this small group of Poles in Bovina caught my eye as an interesting and untold story about the town.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Murder Most Foul and Unnatural - More Breaking News

This will be a brief post, written outside Russell's where the forecast rains haven't hit yet. I have a follow-up to my March 3 post about the possible murder I reported last fall. In the March 3 post, I noted that it appeared likely the murder didn't happen in Bovina. A notice of a Sheriff's sale of the property of Christina McDonald, widow of the victim, John, noted that the McDonald farm was on Lot 78 of Great Lot 39 of the Hardenburgh Patent. This put the farm in Andes (though the sheriff sale notice did say Delhi). I had hoped to find a deed or notice about the sheriff sale, but unfortunately, this particular one was not recorded or the record is lost. I did verify, however, that indeed the farm was in Andes, specifically on Cabin Hill Road. The farm was not far from the Bovina Town line. Why did the notice say Delhi? My speculation is that with the creation of Andes in 1819 and Bovina in 1820, the location of certain farms got rather confusing to people. Before the creation of Andes, the farm would indeed have been in Delhi.

I still hold out hope that at some point I can find out more detail about the sheriff's sale. And though the crime didn't happen right in Bovina, it happened close to Bovina, the inquest was in Bovina and the victim's daughter lived in Bovina a good part of her life.

Regardless, it makes an interesting story.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Teaching in Bovina's One-room Schools

In the interest of full disclosure, this blog entry is a variation on an article I did for the Bovina UP Church Newsletter in 2006.

With 13 common school districts, Bovina had numerous teachers during its history. In the early years, there were two school terms, winter and summer. Teachers for the winter term usually were men. It was felt they could better handle the larger boys. The boys had to work the fields in the summer, so they weren’t as likely to be in school. In the 1865-66 school year, William Seacord taught the winter term at District 4 (the school in the Bovina Center hamlet) from December 1865 to March 1866. Maggie Scott taught the spring term from April to September 1866. This was not always the case. District 6 (Lake Delaware) that same year had women teaching both in the winter and summer terms.

The rate of pay for male teachers was higher than that for females. Bovina district 7 (Russell Hill Road) in the 1877-78 school year paid Thomas Ormiston for the winter term $9 per week, including room and board. The wages and room and board it paid Mary Gladstone for the spring term was $6 per week. In 1890-91, district 6 was paying its male teacher $3 more per week than its female teacher. As Bovina and the rest of the world moved into the 20th century, this gender difference in salaries was not always the case. In 1908-09, District 2 (Pink Street) paid John McCune $336 for 160 days or $2.10 a day. That same school year, Kathryn Reynolds in district 4 was paid $527 for 185 days, or $2.84 each day. In 1925-26, district 4 had one male and one female teacher; both paid the same - $1140 each per year.

Teaching tended to run in families. Thomas Gordon taught in Bovina schools in the 1870s and 80s. His daughter Margaret taught Social Studies to many students at Delaware Academy from the 1940s to the 1970s. Three of teacher Thomas Ormiston’s daughters, Lois Davidson, Ruth Monroe and Marjorie Whalley, all taught in Bovina.

Lois recollected her time as a teacher in notes she wrote in the early 1970s and transcribed by her son Allan: “I graduated in 1915 [from the teacher-training program at Walton High School] and was hired to teach at the Miller Avenue district at $10 a week. We had to do our own janitor work. I well remember coming home from school the first day saying I would rather earn my living doing manual labor. I eventually grew to like it and taught six years ending with a salary of $20 a week.”

Among the last Bovina common school teachers were Grace Coulter Roberts, who taught in Bovina’s district 4 in the 1930s, Stella McPherson, who taught there in the 1940s and Edward Schenider, brother of Lillian Hilson, who was the last teacher at the Maynard (District 1) school, teaching through the 1958-59 school year. Mary Hyzer Jardine was the last teacher to teach in a Bovina common school, teaching at district 4. It was the end of an era when district 4 closed in June of 1961.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Murder Most Foul and Unnatural - Breaking News

Last fall, I reported in a two part blog entry (November 4 and 8, 2009) about what appeared to be Bovina's first murder. John McDonald died in 1819 under suspicious circumstances. Two years later, his son and daughter were arrested for murdering their father, though the daughter was later released and the son ultimately was never convicted of murder because of lack of evidence.

This update concerns a question I had as to whether or not the death of John McDonald really happened within the boundaries of present day Bovina. The death happened a year before Bovina's creation, but when it was prosecuted as murder a year after Bovina was created, the coroner's inquest took place in Bovina. I took that as a key clue about where the McDonald farm and the site of the death were located. It was about the only clue - the location of the McDonald farm was never made clear in the coroner's records.

A very interesting little piece of crucial evidence has shown up, thanks to the 'I Love Delhi, NY' group on Facebook, that points to the McDonald farm being in Andes, though barely. In going over the many images posted on the site, I saw a few news clippings and was startled to find one about a sheriff's sale for the property of Christina McDonald. This Christina very likely is John's widow (the court records from the inquest list her as Christina or Christian).

The notice, dated May 23, 1820, stated that by "virtue of two executions against the goods and chattels lands and tenements of Christina McDonald, I [Sheriff Isaac Burr] shall expose to sale at public vendue [auction] on the 29th day of July next, at 1 o'clock P.M. at the house of G.H. Edgerton in Delhi, all the right & title of said Christina to Lot number 78 in the town of Delhi." The lot referred to in the sale was in Great Lot 39 of the Hardenburgh Patent. That actually doesn't put it in Bovina nor Delhi, but Andes. It does put it close to Bovina, however.

Beyond the name of the owner, another clue that points to this being John McDonald's widow is the mention of two of the neighbors in the description of the lot - Alexander More and Archibald McKnought (McNaught). These are key names. Alexander More provided testimony during the inquest and the first neighbor to come to the McDonald house after John McDonald died was Mrs. McNaught, brought there by John's son Cornelius after (he claimed) he found his father dead.

So I think there is a case to be made for this murder happening in Andes, not Bovina. The coroner's inquest took place in Bovina in what I think was the Lake Delaware area, not far from Lot 78, so the fact of the inquest taking place in Bovina may simply have been a matter of convenience. Since part of the inquest involved exhuming the body, they simply may not have wanted to haul it all the way to the village of Andes for the inquest and used Bovina instead.

I've got a bit more digging to do, checking deeds at the Delaware County Clerk's office. There's the confusion about the ad saying the land was in Delhi, but I cannot find any lot 78 in Great Lot 39 that is in Delhi. There are two lots in the two distinct tracts of the Great Lot 39 that go by number 78 and both are in Andes.

So I suppose I should be happy that this murder took place beyond Bovina's borders, but it was a colorful story about my home town. I'm sorry to have to let it go! But the historian wants to seek the truth. And the story still has a Bovina connection with the site of the coroner's inquest and the fact that at least some of the neighbors likely were from Bovina.

And my heartiest thanks to Ed Roche, the site coordinator and creator of 'I Love Delhi, N.Y.!' for posting this critical bit of evidence.